Do or Do Not.

Review: Elf

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My opinion of Elf essentially boils down to the same one I had of Anchorman: if you like Will Ferrell, you’ll probably like this movie, and if you don’t, then why exactly are you watching it in the first place? The big difference in my opinion of the two movies?

Elf (2003)
Grade: B-
Directed By: Jon Favreau
Written By: David Berenbaum
Starring: Will Ferrell James Caan Mary Steenburgen Bob Newhart Zooey Deschanel
Studio: New Line Cinema

Elf really just isn’t anywhere near as funny.

You know what you’re getting with Elf. You’re going to get a whole lot of Ferrell doing and saying very silly things. What you’re not going to get is much complexity or depth. Admittedly, complexity and depth are probably not why you picked this movie to watch in the first place. It’s a movie about a man raised by Santa’s elves, for chrissakes.

Elf falls into that tradition of feel-good Christmas movies that are most concerned with leaving the audience in the jolly spirit of the season. I don’t know that it fully succeeds in that respect, but since I saw it in early February, maybe I just wasn’t in the right place for Elf to really be able to make that connection for me. I’m much more in a “fuck winter” kind of place right now, probably not the ideal frame of mind for watching a Christmas movie. Don’t blame me for the timing, blame the vagaries of my Netflix queue.

I do want to say this about Ferrell (and this is coming from someone who never really watched Saturday Night Live when he was a cast member, so for many this might be an incredible statment of the obvioius): his ability to completely inhabit such incredibly different comedic characters as Buddy the Elf and Anchorman‘s Ron Burgundy is pretty impressive. Those two characters share very few traits in common other than Ferrell’s physicality and he seems to put all of himself into each one. Voices, facial expression, mannerisms, all quite different.

And I can just hear you saying: “But Allen…isn’t that what an actor is supposed to do?” Certainly it is, but we don’t often expect it from our comedic actors quite so much as we do our dramatic ones. Take Adam Sandler, for instance: in most of his movies, his characters are just variations on the same theme (and a fairly simple theme, at that). Is his Happy Gilmore really all that different from 50 First Dates‘ Henry Roth? They’re both just versions of The Typical Adam Sandler Part. That’s not entirely Sandler’s fault: his fan base wants him to play the same character in each of his movies. When he does something different (Punch-Drunk Love, Spanglish), he alienates both his fans and people who might want to see the movie but don’t want to see an Adam Sandler flick.

So given that…yeah, I’m at least a little impressed with Ferrell’s changing it up a bit.

Elf‘s supporting cast is just chock full of old people we don’t see too often in movies anymore: James Caan, Bob Newhart and Ed Asner are all onboard and trying hard not to look too uncomfortable (only Caan really succeeds), plus we get Mary Steenburgen for some extra still-kinda-hot-for-a-skinny-older-gal goodness. But it’s Zooey Deschanel as the obligatory love interest, who proves most watchable. Deschanel, as is usually the case with her, exudes an oddness that’s both off-putting and endearing at the same time–we’re pretty sure we want to get to know her better, but we’re not quite positive. Bonus points for getting to hear Deschanel’s throaty Ella-Fitzgerald-inspired singing voice. Yep, that is her singing in the movie.

Watch Elf if you feel you need to, if you don’t want to miss any part of the Will Ferrell Canon, but at least wait until Christmas.

Written by Allen

February 5th, 2005 at 11:02 pm

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